It was a 1974 Fender Rhodes Mark I “Eighty Eight” stage piano. That much was easy to tell, even from the back of the press room. The low, dull, electric hum from the speaker suitcase the keyboard sat upon hypnotized central PA’s hardened beat writers as they took their seats in front of the stage. Everyone sat transfixed, anxiously anticipating the coming action.
James Franklin strode manfully to the stage from our right. He wore knee high platform boots with a 6-inch lift, underneath the largest bell bottom blue jeans ever made. A deep blue, almost purple, satin shirt with crushed velvet collar - the tips of which extended farther than his shoulders - completed his period costume. But as regal as the shirt was, what captured everyone’s attention was James’ waist length blonde hair, bordered by enormous pork chop sideburns that were only a few whiskers shy of full beard.
James came to jam. The press room was his studio. And brother, James knew his way around that 88.
And Then The Press Conference Started
JAMES FRANKLIN: Appreciate everybody coming out, like always. Before we get into obviously some summary on Ohio State and then before we get into the Rutgers game like we do each week, I do have two things that I want to cover just briefly with you guys.
The first thing is Greg Mace. I think you guys are probably familiar with this. I just wanted to mention the loss. One of our beat reporters, over the weekend after a significant battle -- he’s been a fixture covering Penn State athletics for decades with ABC 27. So obviously whenever we lose someone like this that’s a part of our community, we want to be supportive and we want to send our condolences to his family and the community. But this one obviously hits close to home for all of us. We wish Greg’s family all the support, and if there’s anything we can do to help and support at this tough time for their family, we’d like to be there for them.
I know you guys as a community -- I don’t want to speak for you guys, but to me right now, I am doing that. I’m speaking on behalf of all the beat reporters and all the media that cover Penn State athletics and Penn State football, as well as the university and our football program. We just want to send our condolences and our support to the Mace family.
Obviously there’s a report that just came out. I just walked out of a meeting, so I haven’t even had a chance to review it, but a report that is coming out from Dr. Lynch. I don’t think there’s any really new information, but it has been reported, and I just wanted to make sure that I addressed that with you guys. I know you’d probably ask. I have not seen the piece yet. But we are pleased that our highly-regarded program has moved forward under the direction -- the outstanding direction of a national leader in orthopedic sports medicine. I think you guys all know, you’re at practice all the time, as well as our administration, that protecting the health and wellbeing of our student-athletes is the single most important priority at Penn State, always has been, always will. And that’s certainly true really for all of our student-athletes. Nothing is more important than the health of our players and ensuring that they get the right medical treatment. The success of our program starts and ends there, really.
I understand that you guys got to ask. I wanted to make sure that I addressed it and then got into our normal procedures that we do. Sorry that we’re having to talk about this and cover this, but I did want to address both points before I moved on. As you guys know -- I know someone is going to ask, but that is our statement. I think the university has put out a statement, and that is my statement, and we’re not going to probably go any further than that. Okay?
All right, Ohio State, kind of reviewing players of the week, on offense our winners are quarterback is Ta’Quan Roberson and Blake Zalar. Both are doing a really good job for us. On defense, it’s Daequan Hardy and Nicholas Tarburton. And then on special teams, Daequan Hardy won that as well. Some I wanted to give those guys some love. They’re doing a really good job for us. Usually there’s a pretty good correlation between guys that continue to show up on the scout team against our best players, week in and week out -- the guys that are playing on Saturdays -- and that translating and showing up in their careers.
One of the things, as Michael Hazel and our guys are putting this stuff together for me each week, that we kind of look at, that we study, is if you look at a bunch of different strength of schedule rankings -- I always think it’s interesting to look at this stuff -- Cody Kellner, his service has got us ranked No. 3, toughest strength of schedule in the country. Coaches By the Numbers has us 10th, and Team Rankings has got us No. 1. So three, ten and one in terms of strength of schedule. And then if you talk about strength of record rankings, Coaches By the Numbers has us ranked at No. 7.
Obviously that’s great for our athletic department. That’s great for our football program. That’s great for our university. That’s great for our fans that we continue to play one of the strongest schedules in the United States. I think the Big Ten, and specifically the Big Ten West, obviously plays a big part in that, as well. So that’s a positive.
Getting into Rutgers, you look at Nunzio Campanile who is leading the program right now, serving as both the interim head coach and interim offensive coordinator, returned 15 starters coming into the season. On the offensive side of the ball, I’ve known Coach Campanile for a long time. He was a head high school coach at Bergen Catholic, did a phenomenal job, is really doing a phenomenal job right now at Rutgers under some tough situations, obviously. But obviously being a guy from the state, takes a lot of pride in the state university and being a high school coach, is doing a great job. I look forward to seeing him before the game.
Scheme, they’re predominantly 11 and 12 personnel, use multiple personnel groups and formations out of those things. 72 percent run on normal downs. They’re a power read team, a zone read team, and they also run the stretch.
Guys that we’re impressed with on the offensive line, Kamaal Seymour, offensive lineman No. 54, young man out of Brooklyn, New York, that we recruited, I guess, five years ago. I remember sitting in a While Castle, I think, in the Bronx with Coach Spencer and trying to recruit Kamaal. He’s done a really nice job. I’m very happy for him. Their quarterback No. 17, Johnny Langan. The running back really jumps out off the tape, has done that the last couple years, No. 1, Isaih Pacheco, really runs hard, is fast, is explosive. And then Bo Melton, a young man that we recruited as well from New Jersey, he’s doing a nice job for them. His father played at Rutgers, as well.
You look on the defensive side of the ball, Andy Buh, 22 years coaching experience, now at Rutgers, was at Maryland before that with Coach Bowen. They’re a base four-down defense. They will mix in some three-down front and the old Bear front, as well. They’re going to play a combination of quarters coverage, what we call cover four, cover one, as well. Guys that we’ve been impressed with is No. 22, their defensive back Damon Hayes, a young man out of Upper Marlboro, Maryland. D-lineman No. 96, Willington Previlon, if I’m saying his name correct -- I hope so -- big young man, 6’5”, 295 pounds out of Orange, New Jersey. And then a linebacker that we recruited as well out of Baltimore Tyshon Fogg, No. 8, is doing a really good job for them.
If you look at special teams, Vince Okruch has been in this league and doing it for a long time. His 42nd year, coaching veteran, has been at Rutgers now for a number of years, was at Ohio State before that. A guy that we’re very familiar with and got a lot of respect for. Their punter is probably having as productive a year as anybody on their team, is averaging almost 44 yards a punt and is a Ray Guy finalist. I think that really jumps out, maybe not his national rank in terms of yards, but how many times he’s pinning people deep inside his own 10-yard line.
Also defensive back No. 29 Lawrence Stevens shows up for them on special teams, doing a great job, and then wide receiver No. 13 Prince Taylor, as well.
That’s kind of where we are. I wanted to make sure I covered those things with you. The weather is beautiful today. I hear it’s going to be very similar on Saturday. Maybe not so much. But like always, it’s been a long season. I appreciate you guys coming out and covering Penn State the way you do, and we open it up to questions.
Q. What role have your fifth-year seniors played in molding the culture and creating the bond within your locker room, and what will you remember most about them?JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, you know, it’s really kind of amazing when you think about five years and the impact that guys can have, and those guys specifically, on a team, on a locker room, on a coaching staff, and really on a community. As you guys know, five years ago where the program was compared to where it is now is dramatically different, and I think you guys have heard me talk about that I don’t know if that story is talked about enough. And the reality is those guys and guys like them, the guys that were fifth-year seniors before that, they’re owed most of the credit. They really are. They committed to Penn State at a time that maybe it wasn’t as easy of a decision to commit to Penn State. They’ve battled through adversity. They’ve been phenomenal. So it’s really hard to kind of sit here and put into words what they have meant to this program, what they have meant to me personally.
I think for Thanksgiving, as you guys know, we try to do a great job with Thanksgiving and make sure everybody is supported and loved. And I think I’ve got 26 players and families coming to my house on Thursday, and I’d love for all of them to be there because I’ve only got so much time left with them. It’s really hard to express what those guys have meant to our program, to our university and to our community.
Q. What can you tell us about Sean Clifford’s availability for Saturday, and how do you manage reps in practice when you have a quarterback banged up? Do you try and get more first-team reps for Will this week, or how do you find that balance?JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I know you guys hate to hear this, but it’ll be a game-time decision. It’s really probably magnified this week, but it’s been a little bit like this for the last three, four weeks with him. I really could see a situation where Will plays this week. Now, how much he plays, I’m not sure. But I could see us playing Will this week, and Will is going to have to get a little bit more reps in practice just because Sean is not ready to take the normal amount of reps that he normally would.
That also changes it for Michael and Ta’Quan, as well. But it’ll be -- kind of we’ll follow medical recommendations like we always do on what they’re able to do today and what he’s able to do tomorrow. And then between what the doctors and trainers and what Sean says, we’ll factor into it.
I will tell you, Sean is not the easiest guy, just like Trace wasn’t, to pull off the field. They’re competitors. But at the end of the day, those will be medical decisions.
Q. Earlier today Blake Gillikin on his conference call said he thought you were -- outside of the football building, he thought you were underappreciated. Do you feel that way? Do you feel outside of your building that maybe you’re underappreciated?JAMES FRANKLIN: Who are you talking about, Penn State?
Q. Yeah.JAMES FRANKLIN: You’re talking about Penn State being underappreciated?
Q. No, you specifically as a head coach.JAMES FRANKLIN: Oh, me? Yeah, my wife thinks so. But about that, that’s the only person I really hear from is my wife and the coaches and the staff, and my daughters come to practice a lot. I will tell you this: I think being a football coach and being in the building, it’s like being in a submarine, and I think there’s positives to that because you get insulated from a lot of things. The social media and the phones and stuff like that change that and kind of bring that world within the submarine, but only if you choose to. You don’t have to look at your phone.
The players are really my concern. They have to be out on campus and walking around on campus, and my daughters have to go to school and all those types of things, so my concern is always for others. That’s kind of how I’m wired. You know, how Blake feels and how other people feel, I’m not sure. I’m getting to a point where I’m getting older, where I’m not one of these guys that can tell you that I don’t care what other people think; I do. I care deeply what other people think. But I am probably getting to a point where I’m pretty confident. If you look at what we’ve done since we’ve been here, there’s a lot to be proud of, and everybody should feel that way. The trainers, the doctors, the players, the coaches, the media that covers Penn State football, the fans, the people in the community, the season ticket holders, the students, they should always feel really proud because everybody had a part in it.
You know, I’m pretty confident. I’m pretty confident in what we have been able to do in helping guys reach their dreams academically, athletically, socially. Our record stacks up pretty good against pretty much anybody. You know, we’re in a good place. I’m in a good place. I want to get better. We want to get better. I appreciate that I’ve got a fifth-year punter sticking up for the head coach. But we’re in a pretty good place, and the people that matter most, Fumi, Addy, and Shola and the guys in the locker room, they’re the guys that I’m most concerned about.
Q. With your team, what do you think would be one area that you might be -- you think has made the most improvement, most growth since the beginning of the season, maybe something in particular?JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, that’s a good question. You know, I guess you’d have to say -- it’s hard for me to do this because I’m always looking at things critically. The staff gets on me that I need to focus on the positives more. And I see myself as a positive guy, but I’m also a critical guy in terms of I’m always on to the next task.
But I’d probably say at the quarterback position in Sean because I just think coming into the season, no one knew what to expect. So that would probably be the thing that jumps out to me. And then obviously Levis being able to come in and do some good things under a tough situation, so I’d probably say that position in some ways. Although I know we need to get better and need to spread the ball around more and increase our completion percentage, all those types of things, but I would probably say that.
Q. I wanted to ask a specific question about two of your fifth-year seniors, Nick Bowers who played 12 games in his four years prior to this year will be playing in his 12th game Saturday. And the other is Steven Gonzalez who went from a third-string left guard to a guy who’s made 41 career starts. What have you seen in the development of those two young men?JAMES FRANKLIN: You know, I think they’re two really good examples. Bowers is a young man that we’re really excited about as a freshman and doing some great things. And he gets an injury and he second-guesses things and he has doubt and concern and his family does, and we talk and we communicate and we battle and we support and we love and all those types of things. And now to see him playing the way he’s playing, making plays in the passing game, making plays in the running game, as a blocker, helping us win, huge smile on his face -- family, huge smiles on their faces. You know, I’m a big believer in overcoming adversity and what it can do for you as a football player, but more importantly what it does for you in life, and I think he’s a really good example of that.
The answer is not to leave when times get tough. The answer is to buckle down and get to work and communicate and have tough conversations and work through it, and that’s what Nick did. That’s what Nick did. That’s what Nick’s mom did, that’s what Nick’s dad did, his uncles who come to practice, his grandmom, all of them, and Nick did the work.
You’re talking about a guy that technically couldn’t play for two whole years, so to see this thing end the way it is for him is awesome. He’s still got a lot of football left to be played, but I couldn’t be more proud of him, a kid from Kittanning, Pennsylvania. I remember the home visit. He was committed to another school early in the process, and I remember the home visit, I remember going to visit his grandmom who lived right down the street from him. It was just awesome. It’s awesome.
And then you’ve got -- Gonzalez is a highly recruited kid out of New Jersey, and like you said, went from a third-stringer to 41 consecutive starts. Had a sit-down really tough conversations with him and his mom and his girlfriend and girlfriend’s parents and uncle last year about whether he should come out early or come back, and school and what he wanted to do and what he wanted to be a part of. And tough conversation back and forth. Those are the things that I probably take with me and remember. It’s meeting with Bowers’ grandma and him being in my office with injuries for two years and the emotion and the doubting themselves and questioning their role in the program, and then you get through all those things.
And same thing with Gonzalez, and him having to battle through some things and then 41 starts, senior, playing really well, confident, happy. Just got invited to one of the senior All-Star games to go show what he can do at the next level for the NFL. Really pretty cool. I’ve got a really close relationship with his high school coach, as well, his high school offensive line coach who I talk to often, calls in and checks in with me. I would communicate with him when there’s issues, as well.
I think it’s just really good stories about what college is supposed to be all about. It’s supposed to be about ups and downs. It’s supposed to be about being challenged academically. It’s supposed to be about being challenged from a football perspective. It’s making great friends. It’s maybe finding your wife. It’s all of it. It’s all of it. It’s the wins and the losses. They haven’t had many of them lately, but it’s still them.
So they’re just two really good examples, and that’s kind of what I think about when I think about these things. I don’t think about the win or I don’t think about the touchdown or I don’t think about the Big Ten Championship that they won. I think about the journey, the entire journey that we’ve been through together, and it’s pretty cool, and it’s probably what I love most about college football.
Q. You did good things battling back against Ohio State, but you also lost your biggest game of the year and had some areas where you struggled. First, do you believe in moral victories? And second, how do you balance with the team the good of the comeback versus some of the struggles and getting down 21-0?JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think the first thing is no, there are no moral victories. I mean, we’ve played that team as well or as good as anybody in the country but not well enough. There are no moral victories. There’s positives, which I showed the team on Sunday. There’s positives to be seen. There always is. Each week we do that on Sundays. We show clips of championship habits, of plays that when we’re all working together and focused and executing who and what we can be and we show them. What was the second part of your question?
Q. Just how you balance the good finish with some of the struggles of the beginning.JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, and again, I think it’s what we do every week. In front of the whole team, I single out, first verbally, the things we did well and then the things we need to improve on, kind of big picture perspective. Then I show usually, I don’t know, somewhere around 12 plays of championship habits that were showed on film that we should all really be proud of. And then we break up and we watch the tape by position and critique it and go through it, and this is what you did really well and this is what you didn’t do well, and this is why. Either we didn’t follow the scheme or we didn’t use the right fundamentals or techniques. But there’s also plays where you do pretty much everything right, and the guy makes a play. You know, you can live with that. They’ve got a good team. They’re on scholarship and things like that.
So we just kind of go through it, and we’re very critical of ourselves and try not to be defensive as coaches and as players. And you go through and you try to find ways that you can get those things corrected and learn from them and move forward.
I do believe -- I talk to a lot of people within the industry -- when you talk about comparing rosters, when you talk about programs, when you talk about things about closing the gap on people, I think we’re doing that. It may not be as fast as people would like or as everyone would like or I would like or our players and coaches would like, but we are doing it. I think we need to have a little bit more of a sense of urgency in some areas. I need to do a better job in some areas.
But that’s how we approach it. We make the corrections. We show the positives, and then I think the other thing it does is it creates dialogue. I know it creates dialogue for you guys. But it also creates dialogue for us. We sit in there as a coaching staff after we go through it like we do every single week, we say, what do we need to do to take the next step, where can we get better, how can we get better, why can we get better. It creates really good conversations with me and my coaching staff, with me and the strength staff, with me and the training staff and the doctors and the academic people. And try to get better in every single area because it creates really good dialogue for me and Sandy and Scott and President Barron. Creates really good dialogue with the board. It creates really good dialogue kind of across the board, if you’re not satisfied with who you are and what you are and where you want to be. We do a lot of that, so we’ll continue to do a lot of that. We’ll continue to work extremely hard to make everybody proud, and I know there’s still work to be done.
Q. How big was that game for Will Levis against Ohio State coming in and doing what he did? I know it wasn’t perfect, but it’s one thing to think the guy is going to be ready to do it, but for him to go in and produce?JAMES FRANKLIN: I sent him a text. I think it was remarkable. You go in on the road against a top-two team, you could make an argument -- top-two team, against a team that’s got tremendous talent and playing with a lot of confidence, and that he went in and not only did he play well, but also the team believed. I think that’s important, that the team believed in him, as well. We didn’t flinch. Times were tough. We didn’t flinch. Will went in and made plays. Our defense made plays. We ran the ball. We just kind of kept battling.
Obviously there at the end of the game there’s things that we’ve got to get cleaned up. We didn’t handle the crowd noise well at the end. That hasn’t really kind of been an issue around here. And there’s things that need to be corrected, but I’m proud of them. You guys know, I talk about him, and we have a lot of hope for his future and excited and all those types of things. But for Sean to have done what he’s done so far this year probably exceeds everybody’s expectations for a first-year starter. And then to get an injury and for Will to come in and battle and do what he did is great, and we take a lot of pride in that. I know Will does, as well.
I also know that we’ve got to get better, and I also know Will knows he has to get better, but we also have kind of a better framework now to know what we need to work on. It’s one thing to do it in practice, it’s another thing to do it in games, so it gives us a very clear understanding of where Will is at, what we have with him, and it gives Will a very good understanding where he’s at. We’re excited.
Q. This is your sixth Thanksgiving here, I believe. Are there any stories of guys coming over, eating a lot or playing with your daughters or doing something that sticks out to you this time of year? And how important is it to have as many of those guys over as possible or as Coach Bowen mentioned last week they have some players over or especially guys that can’t get home?JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think it’s really important. I think it’s really, really important that these guys have got a place to go. They’ve got a place to go where they’re comfortable. They’ve got a place to go where they can eat food that they expect to eat. Because let’s be honest, we all expect to eat like what our mom cooked for us on Thanksgiving. It’s not good enough just to have macaroni cheese, you’ve got to have your mom’s macaroni and cheese. So kind of getting menus and knowing what people want and trying to have all those things there because that’s part of what you expect on Thanksgiving. It gives you that feeling and that sense of home.
But you know, no. I’ve been doing this for a long time. It’s pretty cool that you’ve got -- I think one of the things that’s different here at Penn State is how many parents come here for Thanksgiving and then come to our houses, as well, so you get the kid and the parents all at your house. It’s changed now. My daughters are getting older. They’re not little kids anymore. But it used to be you’d go upstairs -- and we have a bedroom that we don’t really use as a bedroom, it’s a play room, video games and crafts and all that kind of stuff. And you’d go in there and the players would be sitting on chairs that they definitely don’t fit and they’re playing video games or they’re putting makeup on C.J. Thorpe.
That stuff is cool. And our players are phenomenal with our daughters. They really are. My daughters can’t wait. They usually walk me to the door every morning. They’re usually up and walk me to the door to say goodbye. That’s how my day starts. And then like they were already telling me yesterday that they don’t have school, I think, Wednesday on. So literally they’re coming -- they’ll come to work with me at like 5:45 in the morning, and they’ll be there all day. And they’re down in the training room checking on the guys, they’re in the nutrition bar making shakes, they’re in my office telling us and me what to do, they’re giving hugs to the guys in the training room, they’re out at practice running around. They’ll literally spend the entire day there.
And there’s value in that. There’s tremendous value in that for me as a dad, to spend time with my daughters. There’s value that my daughters get to be around the guys, great role models. I also think it’s important that our guys get to see me and the type of father I am and the type of husband I am.
But no crazy stories. When you know you’re in a really good place, though, is when they don’t come, eat, and leave. When they come, they eat, they fall asleep on the couch, drool on your couch and sweat on your couch, which is not a positive at 300 pounds. And then they get up and they go eat again, second round, and then do the same thing again. To me, that’s what Thanksgiving is. It probably is very American and probably not necessarily a positive from a health perspective, but it’s to sleep in, eat, fall asleep, watch football, eat again, eat an unusually unhealthy amount of food and sweet potato pie, because I’m really the only one that eats it in my house. So I eat it.
It’s that. That to me is when you know you’re in a really good place, not that they come and eat and leave. That they come and lay around and relax and have fun all day long. That’s when you’re in a good place because they feel comfortable and they feel at home, and it’s not come, eat, and get back to their dorm or back to their apartment as soon as possible. That’s when you know you’re in a pretty good place.
Q. Looking at the next-man-up mentality with your quarterback depth chart right now, Michael did not travel the last game and Ta’Quan did. In the situation where you were to rely on Will as your No. 1, how do you feel comfort level? How does Shuster factor in because right now you’ve got those two true freshmen listed as the co-No. 3 guys.JAMES FRANKLIN: That’s really what it is. We try to travel both quarterbacks every single week. If there’s some injuries at other positions where we need to travel another guy or a guy is not 100 percent or something like that, then we get in situations where we’ll only travel three quarterbacks, and that’s kind of changed. There’s been one week that that’s Michael, there’s been one week that’s Ta’Quan, based on how they’ve practiced and how they’ve prepared. That’s been a pretty good battle.
The Sunday scrimmages for young guys has been valuable, too, because you get to evaluate them. And we’ve gone live pretty much all year long with the quarterbacks with their mobility to be able to see what that’s been like. I think that’s been really good for them from a confidence standpoint and for us. Last week was really good and really interesting because one of our running backs had got a little bump and bruise and wasn’t able to scrimmage, and they jumped in as running backs. So we had both quarterbacks, one as the running back and one as the quarterback, so that was kind of interesting, too.
But that’s kind of where it is. And obviously I think for them, when Sean went down, it was kind of like an aha or a wake-up moment. Because as much as you tell them they’ve got to prepare like the starters, when that happens, it’s kind of a “blank” gets real moment, and I think we’re going to end up traveling both pretty much every week. And we’ll do that this week, even though it’s a home game, because we want them to have that experience.
But it’s really been weekly. There’s been a week where we would probably say it’s Michael and there’s probably weeks we would say it’s been Ta’Quan.
Q. You started -- early you were talking about some of injure scout team guys. I was wondering, how are Joseph Darkwa and Juice Scruggs progressing? They’ve had some challenges and adjustments this year. What have you seen from them as you get to the regular season finale?JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, you know, Juice is still working through some stuff. Sometimes I forget what I’ve completely told you guys and what I haven’t. But as you guys know, he’s had some medical things that he’s working through. We’re still working through them. We’re still working through those things with him. I think he had hoped and I had hoped and the medical staff had hoped that maybe we would get him back after the first bye. That didn’t necessarily happen.
The other person you asked about was? Yeah, Darkwa. Obviously a completely different situation. You know, he’s used to playing for like the D�sseldorf Dragons, two days a week practice type of deal. It’s a different situation. But he’s adjusted really well from a relational standpoint. He’s very close with the guys. The guys love him. I don’t know if I told you guys this. So we do the thing where they -- every new person in our organization -- players, staff, anybody -- has to get up and either dance in front of the team or sing in front of the team. And when you sing, it’s got to be a cappella, and everybody does it. It’s kind of a rite of passage. The staff are usually the best ones.
So Darkwa did it, and he did, I guess -- a dance rap, I guess, is what you’d call it. But it was not what everybody was expecting because it was a German artist, a German rap, and nobody knew the words and the beat was not what we would consider -- it’s not what we would probably use. But it ended up being hilarious, and the whole room went crazy because it just was not what you were expecting, if that makes sense.
The football adjustment has been dramatic. I think we found out, like I mentioned earlier, that he had only really practiced two days a week and then the game. So obviously coming to America and how we do it is very different. So that’s been an adjustment. The food is an adjustment, the language is an adjustment. Although he speaks really good English. It’s just different. It’s different.
He’s a big, strong, athletic guy who can run. He’s still learning the techniques and fundamentals that we need him to learn. I think this spring will be very important for him.
Q. Going off that, two of your young receivers, John Dunmore and T.J. Jones, what have you seen from them during this year in kind of those behind-the-scenes moments?JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, two guys that are very hard-working, are very competitive, very confident, very confident. Those are tough conversations, guys that obviously expect to play and we end up redshirting them. I think early on those things are tough, but then they kind of figure it out and get it and understand. The scrimmages on Sundays have been really good. Going against our No. 1 defense every single day in practice, I think, has been really good for them. They’re starting to fill out physically. Their bodies are changing. And then the adjustment to school. Those guys are doing good.
I’ve been really impressed with them. T.J. is so positive. He’s got a huge smile on his face. Dunmore is the same way. They’ve been great. They’ve been great. So we’re excited to see what they’re going to do the rest of the season and then obviously going into spring, as well.
Q. I’ve got to ask, white meat or dark meat?JAMES FRANKLIN: Dark. I’ll tell you an interesting story. My Aunt Jackie and my Grandmom Leota used to fight over the butt of the turkey every year, which is dark meat, I think. And it was literally a fight over it. I never really understood why as a child, but definitely dark meat. I thought we were done.
Q. No, I have other questions. About Pat Freiermuth, moving him around a little bit more last week, was that a game-specific thing, and is that something based on how it went, you’d consider doing in the future, as well?JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, it’s just part of what we’re trying to do, what we think gives us the best advantage to attack the defense. It’s also some things where we’re trying to maybe run similar plays that we’ve been running all year long but just package it a little bit different. You know, so obviously being able to get the ball into Pat’s hands and get the ball into K.J.’s hands is important. We’ve got to do a better job of spreading the ball around and getting everybody involved, and those guys have got to make plays when their opportunities do come. But we’ve got to attack more of the field with more players consistently. That will help us.
But yeah, I think it’s more us running the same plays, try to package them a little bit different so they can anticipate what’s coming as much. Also when you move guys, it makes it a little bit harder for them to bracket them and things like that.
Q. You mentioned the submarine and kind of insulating yourself from everything else, but you have pushed back against I would say a vocal-ish 2 percent or minority of some point.JAMES FRANKLIN: When you say push back, you mean when I come in here and I say I want to thank --
Q. Yeah, subtly or not. Some of those things clearly bother you, and you’re in, I would say, a pretty good chance to win 10 or 11 games this year, which is better than most everybody else and you’re going to do it again.Does it bother you that relative to the challenges you’ve faced this year and relative to the questions that you had going into this year, that you’re going to do that, and yet you still feel compelled to tell people what about this don’t you understand is hard?
JAMES FRANKLIN: Yes. Yes. But you know, that’s part of it. Again, I’ve said to you guys before, you don’t fill up a 107,000-seat stadium without passion. The funny thing is -- well, we’ve got to win this game because this game is a big game. They’re all big. Was Michigan big when we played them? Was that a big one? I think so. But then we win it, and they’re just like me, they’re on to the next task. Well, you’d better win this one.
I get it. Again, I think if you take your bias out of it and you take your fan out of it and you step away and you look at the data, the data is pretty helpful for me. But it’s a fine line because I know where we want to be. I know where they want us to be. But you would hope there’s times where -- where did most people have us coming into the season and where are we? You look at our consistency, which I think -- what would you rather have? Would you rather have one year where you spike up and then two average years? And if you look, I think the most telling statistic is consistency. And for us, if you look at us over the last four years, pretty good. I think when you can say out of 132 Division I programs, there’s only five programs in the country that have had the level of consistency that we’ve had -- or six, whatever it may be -- it’s pretty good.
And I’m just a big believer, if you keep doing that and you keep chipping away, and you keep identifying areas where you still lack and have weaknesses and you improve those areas, that that consistency and that attention to detail and that kind of mastery of approach -- where you’re never satisfied and you’re always trying to get better in every single thing -- that you’re going to start to either raise the level of consistency to a whole ‘nother level, or at the very least, you’re going to be consistent and then be able to have a year where things just fall right for you.
But I also know, and you guys have heard me talk about this before, when we got here, if you would say, okay, where was the program, where were we at, where were our weaknesses, where were things we needed to overcome, we’ve done a lot of those things. There’s still things left that we need to do.
And I think probably the last thing I would say that’s important -- I don’t want my answers to ever come off like I’m satisfied, because I can guarantee you, I am not. I am not. And neither are our players, and neither is the staff. But I do think there comes a point where you look at the big picture and you say, wow, there’s a lot to be proud of. And there’s some programs that are doing it football-wise but maybe not academically, and there’s some programs that are doing it football-wise and academically but maybe not socially.
I think we’re doing it in all those areas at a pretty high level. We want to get better. We want to get to a 100 percent graduation rate because it’s never okay for one of our guys not to graduate. We want to get to a point where there’s no issues. And I get emails when there’s noise disturbances in the dorms or we had too many guys in the elevator. I want to get rid of all those things, too. Our guys make mistakes, but I think over my time here and the course of our time here, it’s been pretty good. And then being able to be successful on the field.
I think big picture and holistically, I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished, but I’m not satisfied. And I think 96, 97 percent of our fan base feels the same way.
Q. Rutgers and Maryland are the newest members of the Big Ten, and I know their time frame is like yours. What have they brought to the conference football-wise?JAMES FRANKLIN: So it’s interesting. Obviously if you’re talking from a business perspective, you talk about the population of the Big Ten, the number of graduates from the Big Ten, you talk about TVs, obviously, in the Maryland-D.C. area, you talk about New Jersey, New York. It’s obviously opened that up.
Obviously to your point, those programs are going to continue to have more success, and I think that will change the narrative a little bit. But I think the other thing I’d make the argument is that in some ways they have made things a little bit more challenging here, because in the past, we’ve had competition in the Maryland-D.C. area or competition in the New Jersey area for recruiting or whatever it may be. And one of the things that we could say is well, you’re going to have a chance to come play in the Big Ten. We don’t have that conversation as much. So that’s changed the dynamics of it a little bit. There’s more Big Ten options now in our specific footprint.
But I think the biggest thing is is the way expansion happened nationally, those made sense. Those made sense for us as a conference. But besides that, I haven’t really kind of studied it enough.
Q. On the field how have they impacted the conference?JAMES FRANKLIN: Well, I think that goes back to kind of the things that I mentioned. There’s guys that are playing at Maryland and that are playing at Rutgers that I don’t know -- I’m not sure if without them being in the Big Ten if they would have been there, which that means guys that we’re competing against that maybe we wouldn’t have competed against, and maybe one or two of those guys is at Penn State.
When you say that to people, they may say, what’s he talking about? Well, Saquon Barkley, when I got the job was committed to one of those schools, and you look. Maryland is going to put a bunch of guys that end up going to the NFL one day, Rutgers is going to put a bunch of guys that end up going to the NFL one day. And if one or two of those guys was on another team in the Big Ten or specifically at Penn State, that helps. So you’re kind of spreading out the talent in this region over more schools.
It’s kind of like -- going back to something that I’m familiar with is the PSAC, the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Division II. You look at some of the teams that win the National Championship, they may only have one in the state so all the Division II players go to that one school and they’re able to thrive. Where you’ve got the PSAC and there’s all these schools and the talent is divided among them all.
I think that’s one of the things that probably jumps out to me is they’ve got some guys on their team that they’ve done a good job of recruiting and evaluating that may have been in the old model of the Big Ten in one of our programs.
Q. A few minutes ago Pete Thamel came out with a report that Justin Shorter is in the transfer portal. Just curious if you can confirm that report, how that conversation came about, and if he’ll be available to play in this game and the bowl game.JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, to be honest with you, that’s why I didn’t know about the other report, because I was sitting in a meeting with that. I think sometimes when I say I haven’t read the report or saw the report, you guys don’t necessarily always believe me. But I was in another meeting, and I don’t know enough. Literally we’re just having a conversation and walking out when I came here. I’m not sure where we’re at. Obviously it was a conversation that was had. It was a conversation that was had.
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